Sunday, June 20, 2010

The future of journalism, part 2

Yesterday I pontificated on the changes in newspaper newsrooms from the hectic days depicted in Hollywood movies like "The Front Page" and "His Girl Friday." The loss of a number of high profile jobs and the transformation of newspaper rooms from busy hubs of activity into much more quiet and empty halls of inactivity has been startling to me. When I first started to witness newsrooms, even the teletype machines from powerful news gathering services like the Associated Press and United Press International were ever clattering with bulletins and alerts signaled by a series of bells. A five-bell alert was an extremely grave or serious bulletin such as the death of a president or the crash of an airliner and to hear these machines start to peal meant heightened blood pressure and a racing heart. Today's news to a wired nation and pushed out to wireless handheld devices such as PDAs and cellphones has created a very different delivery of news to end users. Newspapers and wire services no longer serve as the primary purveyors of breaking news. For example, last year's back-to-back deaths of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett and the "Miracle on the Hudson" were announced largely over Twitter and Facebook. With thousands of journalists graduating from traditional journalism schools each year, faculties and advisors have been busy keeping up with the technological advances and the ramifications for the Internet and mass communication in the coming years. Although the lead is much slimmer than it ever has been before, newspapers still own the largest percentage of annual advertising. That means that radio, television and the Internet all have varying degrees of success behind the powerful news organizations that own many of the nation's newspapers such as Gannett, Hearst, Newhouse and Fox. It also means that newspapers have the most to lose. As to TV and radio news gathering organizations, much of what has shaped them has been a change from traditional methods of news delivery such as daily newscasts to more breaking news reports with continuous coverage as well as more entertainment-oriented stories that in previous eras would be seen as gossip mongering or salacious. So what does the future of journalism portend for daily subscribers and journalists? Well, in case you didn't hear the pronouncement from none other than Microsoft's Bill Gates, the future of newspapers - indeed for all media - is to go to a paperless, online delivery system. According to Gates, all reading will be online in the future. Maybe that's a bit optimistic on his part, but you can read the story here. Frankly, I agree that newspapers and television will be profoundly impacted by coming changes, but despite the love affair technical gurus have with the Kindle and the i-Pad, I don't see libraries emptying their racks of books in favor of a method of digital delivery. What will prevent this from occurring, in my humble opinion, will be the authors and publishers who control copyrights. Scholarly researchers, for example, will probably resist posting to a digital nexus until it can be determined that this method is one that will be consistently available to all other researchers and at all levels of interest. Also, finding a fair way of payment to the holders of the intellectual properties will be of prime concern. Consider last year's battle with John Grisham versus Amazon and Walmart, which were selling his $25 books for less than $10 each! I look to the way record companies have suffered at the hands of Internet downloads. No longer are music lovers interested in purchasing entire albums by an artist. They merely download the songs they want. This means a considerable revenue loss to composers and the producers and recording companies who provide the backing for the sessions and pay for other administrative costs. Imagine how a concept album like "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" or "Tommy" would be presented in today's digital delivery world. Journalists have much to fear as news reports get watered down into easily digested packets of a few well-chosen words. In-depth or investigative reports will undoubtedly suffer as news organizations are no longer able to afford to provide the backing to reporters or correspondents to generate reports over a long period. Will we become a nation of bloggers, using Twitter to alert our followers about breaking news or poking each other on Facebook? I'm not sure, but it certainly would appear that way. Since I consider myself both a journalist and a computer expert, I have my moments of indecision and feel the pull inherent in such a dichotomy. With all of the emphasis placed on ethical choices, to be made in the field, journalists are probably on a much better moral placement than ever before. The problem is that as the delivery method becomes more digital, there is a greater likelihood that hard-working journalists will become the morally-chaste victims of unemployment and corporate downsizing. Say it isn't so, but the vast majority of journalists coming out of schools could one day be singing the song "Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?"


robin said...

keep your chin are a wonderful writer and journalist and will always have me in your audience on the computer or in the paper. Robin

Michael Rudeen said...

I have seen the future, and I don't like it very much.